Quetta, Dec. 4 (Reuters): Pakistan today released 13 activists from outlawed Islamic groups, including members of two groups engaged in insurgent activities in Kashmir.
Officials said the men were freed on the orders of Jam Yousaf, the new chief minister of Baluchistan province in the southwest of the country. “All prisoners from defunct religious parties detained in different prisons should be released immediately,” Yousaf said in a directive issued late last night.
Of the 13 men released, two are from banned Kashmir-linked groups Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad and the rest from a Sunni and a rival Shiite Muslim group involved in sectarian killings in Pakistan in recent years.
Early this year, President Pervez Musharraf had banned five extremist Islamic groups as part of a campaign to stem rising religious militancy and defuse the confrontation with India.
The releases came after Yousaf, who comes from the pro-military Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam, joined hands with hardline Islamic groups to form a coalition government in Baluchistan.
The religious right, which had fared poorly in previous Pakistani elections, made huge gains in the October poll by tapping anti-US sentiment, particularly in regions bordering Afghanistan.
The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition of six hardline Islamic groups took power last week in the North-West Frontier Province that also borders Afghanistan. The success of the coalition raised concerns in the West that it could undermine the US-led war on terror.
But government officials have said its impact would be limited because provincial governments had no jurisdiction over a key tribal belt where hundreds of al Qaida and Taliban members were believed to have fled from Afghanistan.
Pakistani authorities last month released Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the outlawed Lashkar group, and in October freed Mohammad Azam Tariq, head of a banned sectarian Sunni Muslim group, who was elected to Parliament in the October election.